Re: [asa] Definition of terms?

From: Randy Isaac <>
Date: Sat Dec 16 2006 - 22:00:06 EST

Allan, I forwarded your note to Joel Carpenter who has written some books on
religious history and is an expert on the history of evangelicals.Here's his
response:RandyI argue for something more like "B" in your discussion below.
"Evangelical" is
a rather generic term for a whole extended family of somewhat related
and revivalist movements that came into being to bring spiritual renewal
Protestant Christianity.

Evangelicalism really predates "liberal" vs. "conservative" debates, e.g.
the inspiration and authority of the Scriptures, whether traditional
doctrines and beliefs still obtain (e.g. atonement, miracles, trinity), and
whether traditional Christian morals still obtain. Back when evangelicalism
was born, in the days of Wesley and Whitefield in the English speaking world
and the Moravians, et. al., on the Euro continent, liberalism wasn't the
issue. The problems evangelicals addressed were formalism and nominalism
within state-church Protestantism. So the real soul of evangelicalism is
doctrinal or moral conservatism. It is the continuing concern that the
churches need to be revived, because their spirituality, devotion and zeal
flagging. "Revive Us Again!" and "Ye Must Be Born Again" are the banners of
the movement.

In the U.S. during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries,
liberal vs. conservative fights among Protestant churches that had been
evangelical earlier, e.g. the Methodists, Baptists, and Presbyterians, had
part of their outcome a shift in the nomenclature that made "evangelical"
more coterminous with "conservative."

Fundamentalism, according to George Marsden, who is the "meister" among
historians writing on the subject, is "militantly anti-modernist evangelical
Protestantism." All kinds of evangelicals might show some anti-modernist
tendencies, or willingness, on occasion, to flee mainstream society and
to hole up in sectarian bunkers, or to insist on certain doctrines that they
think are the mainstays of a resolutely orthodox and supernatural
 But fundamentalists make these matters central and definitive (E.g. not
the being "in the world but not of the world," but rather, "come ye out and
ye separate!" Not just upholding the Bible's inspiration and authority, but
the Bible's verbal, plenary inspiration, with a literal hermeneutic, and
inerrancy--the Bible being without error in all that it addresses or
Fundamentalism also has some doctrines that are its specialty, such as
dispensationalism in salvation history and premillennialism in eschatology.
Some other evangelicals (e.g. many pentecostals) may hold some of these
but not all, and usually do not see them to be prime measures of orthodoxy.

So in other words, evangelical is the broader tradition, and fundamentalism
one branch of that family tree. Stott was always an evangelical, of a
low-church, Anglican variety, but never a fundamentalist. Graham came from
fundamentalist roots and moderated his views, seeking a broader evangelical

Best wishes,
Joel----- Original Message -----
From: <>
To: <>
Sent: Wednesday, December 13, 2006 8:59 PM
Subject: [asa] Definition of terms?

> This is somewhat off-topic, but it involves vocabulary that sometimes
> comes
> up in our science-faith discussions. And it was sparked by a book I
> agreed
> to review for PSCF.
> The question concerns how one defines (in American Protestantism)
> "evangelical" and "fundamentalist" and whether or not the latter is a
> subset of the
> former. I list two possible ways to classify these terms:
> (A) In one classification, "evangelical" is a middle category, bordered
> perhaps by "liberal" on one end (that's not the border I'm
> interested in here)
> and "fundamentalist" on the other end. The border issues between
> "evangelical"
> and "fundamentalist" being mainly these in my opinion (necessarily
> oversimplified):
> -- Fundamentalism has a more separatist, "us vs. them" approach where
> doctrinal purity is demanded and those who are not doctrinally pure
> (even less
> conservative Christians) are viewed as enemies, in contrast to
> evangelicals being
> more willing to engage with the diverse world.
> -- Fundamentalism is more Bible-centered, whereas evangelicalism is
> Jesus-centered, with fundamentalists making the "perfect
> book" (often interpreted
> with extreme literalism) central to their doctrine. While many
> evangelicals
> would affirm concepts like "inerrancy", it is not made a litmus test
> and
> evangelicals are more willing to allow historical and cultural
> context to play a
> role in exegesis and to look at the "whole counsel of Scripture"
> rather than
> individual proof-texts.
> ---
> I don't want to discuss the definition of the border here -- the
> point is
> that in this classification (which is the way I tend to use the terms),
> "evangelical" and "fundamentalist" do not overlap -- "fundamentalist"
> is the
> category for those too far to the "right" to be in the "evangelical"
> category.
> (B) Another classification (which seems to be used in the book I am
> reading)
> has "fundamentalist" as a *subset* of "evangelical". Everyone on
> one side
> of the theological spectrum is called an evangelical, with
> fundamentalists
> being the most conservative among the evangelicals. This
> classification allows
> the author to talk about the political and social involvement of
> "evangelicals" while using as his examples people like Jerry
> Falwell, Tim LaHaye, and D.
> James Kennedy (all of whom I would call "fundamentalist").
> So, any opinions (preferably informed ones) as to which is the more
> sensible
> nomenclature? Is there a standard usage among historians of
> religion? From
> what little I know about the history of the modern "evangelical"
> movement,
> there was a conscious attempt maybe 50 years ago for people (like
> Billy Graham
> and John Stott) to use that term to distinguish themselves from
> fundamentalists, which would tend to argue for (A) above.
> ---------------------------------------------------------------------
> Dr. Allan H. Harvey, Boulder, Colorado |
> "Any opinions expressed here are mine, and should not be
> attributed to my employer, my wife, or my cat"
> To unsubscribe, send a message to with
> "unsubscribe asa" (no quotes) as the body of the message.

To unsubscribe, send a message to with
"unsubscribe asa" (no quotes) as the body of the message.
Received on Sat Dec 16 22:00:24 2006

This archive was generated by hypermail 2.1.8 : Sat Dec 16 2006 - 22:00:24 EST